What is spondylolysis?
The most common X-ray identified cause of low back pain in adolescent athletes is a stress fracture in one of the bones (vertebrae) that make up the spinal column. Technically, this condition is called spondylolysis (spon-dee-low-lye-sis). It usually affects the fifth lumbar vertebra in the lower back, and much less commonly, the fourth lumbar vertebra.
If the stress fracture weakens the bone so much that it is unable to maintain its proper position, the vertebra can start to shift out of place. This condition is called spondylolisthesis (spon-dee-low-lis-thee-sis). If too much slippage occurs, the bones may begin to press on nerves and surgery may be necessary to correct the condition.
What are the risk factors associated with spondylolysis?

  • Genetics: There may be a hereditary aspect to spondylolysis. An individual may be born with thin vertebral bone and therefore be vulnerable to this condition. Significant periods of rapid growth may encourage slippage.
  • Overuse: Some sports, such as gymnastics, weight lifting and football, put a great deal of stress on the bones in the lower back. They also require that the athlete constantly over-stretch (hyperextend) the spine. In either case, the result is a stress fracture on one or both sides of the vertebra.